Drums of Resistance, an intimate view into 1990s Kosovo

A review of the new documentary exploring the 1990s nonviolent resistance movement in Kosovo “Drums of Resistance,” which premiered nationally at Dokufest on Sunday.

Most  analyses on the breakup of Yugoslavia begin and end in Kosovo, but fail to illuminate what happened in Prishtina in between. Histories of the Slobodan Milosevic regime emphasize his infamous Gazimestan speech in 1989, move to the wars in Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia, and then return to the NATO bombing campaign that ended the Kosovo War. What often needs a closer look, however, is the period between 1989-1998 when a non-violent Albanian resistance movement and an entire parallel system of public institutions defied the oppressive regime. Besa Luci and Mathieu Jouffre’s Drums of Resistance does a beautiful job at filling that gap.

The film chronicles conversation from two separate, small dinner parties. At one, we see Luci’s sister, sociologist Nita Luci, discussing with her friends about their own memories; at the other, Luci’s mother and her peers recall their own experiences. The dinner party footage is integrated with archival footage from the 90s, several sit-down interviews with academics and activists, and conversations between friends of the directors.


Footage from Prishtina in the 1990s.

The inclusion of various age groups gives the documentary a generational narrative component, but there is one major flaw needing to be addressed upfront. Although Kosovar viewers may be familiar with some of the film’s prominent participants, no names or titles are provided throughout the film: only the end credits list the contributors. I found myself wanting to put names to unfamiliar faces. I appreciated that the story is not guided by a single master narrator, but providing names, especially for those interviewees who have extensive research publications, would have been a helpful organizational component.

As the dinner guests and interviewees open themselves to conversation, it becomes evident that this documentary addresses not only a gap in Yugoslav histories, but in Kosovo Albanian collective memory as well. “We never talk about the 1990s,” says Linda Gusia, one of the dinner guests.

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Nita Luci’s guests share memories from high school around the dinner table.

The film unearths memories from before the culmination of the armed resistance movement and blends these narratives with footage of massive student protests and crammed school classes held in private homes.


One of the parallel schools shown in the film still stands in Prishtina today. Photo: Faith Bailey

Drums of Resistance is as artistic as it is informative. The pacing flows as naturally as the pace of a dinner party. Anticipation bubbles before the scenes unfold, the viewers and the dinner guests sink into their chairs and slowly warm up to what will transpire over the next hour, the conversations that began as a bit forced and self-aware loosen as guests begin to feel comfortable talking over each other and lighting cigarettes.

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Luci’s mother’s generation recollects their experiences as parents and Yugoslav state employees in the years before the war.

The most intimate and real aspect of the documentary is its ability to show the pain of recollection alongside moments of laughter.

One of the women from the dinner party remembers her experiences in Zagreb during the Yugoslav era that point to discrimination against Albanians before the Milosevic regime. Not long after she shares her memory of how this culminated in mass expulsions of Albanians from public institutions when Milosevic rose to power, a clip of young Luci and her friend dancing and singing the lyrics to a Yugoslav Eurovision pop song fills the screen.

Although multiple voices from one Prishtina family are in focus, the juxtaposition of light-hearted memories with the painful and the inclusion of different age groups succeeds in providing a complex picture of Prishtina in the 1990s.

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Friends recollect experiencing the 1990s as primary school children.

The film is both piece of art and research deserving a place within private homes and on educational material lists about the region. Drums of Resistance places the pre-war Albanian resistance movement alongside the overall history of the Yugoslav wars, but provides an important focus on a particular moment in Kosovo’s history.

”Drums of Resistance” premiered nationally at Dokufest on Sunday. The film will be screened again this coming Saturday, 6 pm at the Kino Klubi theatre.


11 August 2016 - 17:20

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